At the National Book Awards ceremony this past November, Rachel Kushner read a section from her second novel, The Flamethrowers, a finalist in the fiction category. She chose a scene set at a New York dinner party in 1976, in which a middle-aged artist named Stanley Kastle plays his guests a tape in which he muses about language and real estate: “A good realtor says ‘home.’ Never ‘house.’ Always ‘cellar’ and never ‘basement.’ Basements are where cats crap on old Santa costumes. Where men drink themselves to death. Where children learn firsthand about sexual molestation. But cellar. A cellar is where you keep root vegetables and wine.” Kushner’s reading lasted five minutes, but she didn’t get through half of Stanley’s recorded speech.